As a film historian/critic who specializes in chronicling, critiquing and deconstructing celluloid stereotypes of Indigenous peoples, Russian Philipp Yuryev’s The Whaler Boy made a big impression upon me. On the one hand, the Moscow-born writer/director’s debut full-length feature is a strikingly original movie set among the Native people in Siberia’s Great White North. On the other hand, the Russian auteur’s The Whaler Boy reminded me of several other films plus a classic book.
This 93-minute movie is largely shot on location in Chukotka, a village inhabited by Inuits in the Russian Far East, bordered by the East Siberian Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean. Vladimir Onokhov delivers a poignant performance as the title character in The Whaler Boy, who is named Leshka. The 15-year-old and his best friend, Kolyan (Vladimir Lyubimtsev), live a semi-traditional lifestyle in a Chukotka village near the Bering Strait, with ramshackle, grim-looking low-rise apartments and houses, where the power often fails (just as their motorbikes breakdown motorboats run out of gas, perhaps metaphors of “modernity” failing Indigenous people).